This weekend the Tonya Harding biopic, I, Tonya, will be released. It stars Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding and features Sebastian Shaw and Allison Janey. Rotten Tomatoes has given it the "certified fresh" rating.
In anticipation for the film, the singer Sufjan Stevens has released a song called, "Tonya Harding." It is weird and deep and definitely worth checking out.
The song covers Harding's entire life starting with her low-income upbringing.
Just some Portland white trash
You confronted your sorrow
Like there was no tomorrow
While the rest of the world only laughed
To her famous triple axel.
Triple axel on high
A delightful disaster
You jumped farther and faster
You were always so full of surprises
To her infamous, alleged attack on Nancy Kerrigan.
Nancy Kerrigan’s charm
Well she took quite a beating
So you’re not above cheating
Can you blame her for crying?
Fans are applauding Stevens for humanizing someone who is so frequently mocked in popular culture.
It is a tragic and fascinating and complex human story, I'm not surprised Sufjan found interest in it
Sufjan is reminding us what popular music can do, reminding us that art can tackle any topic it wishes, delivering even a poignant five-minute "biopic" of a disgraced American figure skating champion because why not. Pop music is not supposed to do portraiture, but who made them rules? The Tonya Harding story challenges us all to look hard at our own sexism and classism.
Sufjan needs to keep doing portrait songs. This and John Wayne Gacy prove it.
In a blog post Stevens explains what drew him to write a song about Harding.
Tonya Harding’s dramatic rise and fall was fiercely followed by the media, and she very quickly became the brunt of jokes, the subject of tabloid headlines and public outcry. She was a reality TV star before such a thing even existed. But she was also simply un-categorical: America’s sweetheart with a dark twist. But I believe this is what made her so interesting, and a true American hero. In the face of outrage and defeat, Tonya bolstered shameless resolve and succeeded again and again with all manners of re-invention and self-determination. Tonya shines bright in the pantheon of American history simply because she never stopped trying her hardest. She fought classism, sexism, physical abuse and public rebuke to become an incomparable American legend.
He also mentions that earlier drafts of the song were much meaner, but as he dug in, he began to realize how sympathetic Harding is.
But the more I edited, and the more I meditated, and the more I considered the wholeness of the person of Tonya Harding, I began to feel a conviction to write something with dignity and grace, to pull back the ridiculous tabloid fodder and take stock of the real story of this strange and magnificent America hero. At the end of the day, Tonya Harding was just an ordinary woman with extraordinary talent and a tireless work ethic who set out to do her very best. She did that and more. I hope the same can be said of us all.
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